COVER STORY: 20th Century Fox TV Toppers Turn Arranged Marriage Into Unparalleled Success
After 14 years together at the top, their first names have fused into a five-syllable sobriquet pronounced “Gary’nDana,” or just as often,“Dana’nGary.”
Television bizzers usually speak of the 20th TV chairman-CEOs in the same breath because that’s how they operate in running the powerhouse TV studio that is rivaled only by Warner Bros. in size, scope and profitability.
Since 1999, Walden and Newman have turned a shotgun professional marriage arranged by Peter Chernin into one of the most prosperous executive partnerships in showbiz history. The two have presided over exponential growth in the studio’s production activity for network, cable and digital outlets. And in recent years, they’ve taken on more turf within the broader studio by gaining oversight of the 20th Century Fox studio’s licensing and merchandising and syndication sales operations.
In reflecting on how far 20th TV has come on their watch, Newman and Walden are quick to emphasize that neither could have done it alone.
“Our business is very dynamic. It’s very hard to predict with any certainty what the television business is going to look like three to five years into the future,” Walden says. “The prospect of running this studio would be immeasurably more difficult if I didn’t have someone to talk to about these issues. Gary and I have an incredibly beneficial, meaningful relationship that has (helped) every step we’ve taken in growing this organization to where it is now.”
There is no doubt, Newman says, that in a business changing as fast as TV, two heads are better than one.
“One of the secrets to the success we’ve had is that out of the process of two people having to come to a point of view on something, you get better decisions,” Newman says. “Dana will say something that I don’t agree with, but it forces me to think about it from a different perspective. More often than not, I’ll say, ‘You’re right.’ ”
The hallmark of 20th TV as a studio is its enviable reputation for shepherding risky creative bets into commercial successes. The tale of “24” is a case study in bucking TV traditions — and being far ahead of the curve on the boom in serialized drama series.
“Modern Family” was a cutting-edge spin on a domestic comedy that bowed at a time when family laffers were few and far between on network TV. “Glee,” with its musical focus and high school setting, was a primetime Hail Mary pass that spurred the studio to become proactive in generating ancillary revenue opportunities through music and merchandising deals.
With “Homeland,” 20th TV not only tackled combustible subject matter (the gray areas of America’s war on terrorism), but also cracked the code in developing a feasible economic production model for a pay TV channel. It picked up an Emmy last year for best drama series in the process. And in their spare time, Walden and Newman found the way to quench the thirst of the rabid Bluth family fanbase by reviving “Arrested Development” on Netflix.
The studio is also known for its track record in nurturing and investing in creative talent through its formidable roster of showrunners, directors and producers. Carter Bays and Craig Thomas were young scribes fresh off “The Late Show With David Letterman” when they landed at the studio with a quirky idea that became “How I Met Your Mother.” Steven Levitan and Ryan Murphy had been through their share of
misfires before they connected with “Modern Family” and “Glee,” respectively.
“Our calling card to the creative community is, ‘Bring us your biggest ideas. We can support your vision,’ ” Walden says. “We always want to be in business with the best creators.”